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Bruestle v. State

August 10, 2006



Post-conviction court did not abuse its discretion when it concluded that an evidentiary hearing was not required when petitioner, who entered a guilty plea, could not show that he was so likely legally insane at the time of the killing, or so likely incompetent to stand trial at the time he pleaded guilty, that his trial counsel's decision not to pursue an insanity defense or an incompetency argument was ineffective assistance of counsel.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anderson, Paul H., Justice.

Ramsey County

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.


On March 5, 2003, appellant Richard Brian Bruestle pleaded guilty to and was sentenced to life imprisonment for the stabbing and shooting death of his aunt. Bruestle did not file a direct appeal or a motion to withdraw his plea within the time allowed for a direct appeal. Bruestle subsequently retained new counsel and filed a post-conviction petition, claiming that he was incompetent to plead guilty and that his trial counsel was ineffective due to counsel's decision not to fully pursue an insanity defense or make an incompetency argument before Bruestle pleaded guilty. The post-conviction court denied Bruestle's petition for relief without holding an evidentiary hearing. We affirm.

On December 7, 2002, Saint Paul police officers responded to a 911 call and, upon arriving at the home of Lorene Nell McIntyre, discovered appellant Richard Brian Bruestle outside the home with blood on his clothing. Bruestle told the officers to shoot him because he had a gun and would shoot them, but instead of continuing to confront the officers, Bruestle threw his gun on the ground and apparently surrendered. Bruestle told the officers that he had killed a woman. He said that he had stabbed the woman 15 times and that there were no bullets in his gun because he had "filled the victim full of lead." Nearby, the police found McIntyre's body.

McIntyre was Bruestle's aunt, with whom he was living at the time of her death. Bruestle told the police officers that he and McIntyre had been arguing about the taste of her chili, and as a result, McIntyre told Bruestle to get out of the house. Bruestle further told the officers that he believed McIntyre attempted to phone 911 as a result of the argument, and that infuriated him. The officers arrested Bruestle at the scene and transported him to jail.

Bruestle was indicted by a grand jury for murder in the first degree, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.185(a)(1) (2004); Minn. Stat. § 609.11 (2004), invalidated by State v. Barker, 705 N.W.2d 768 (Minn. 2005) (amended 2006); and murder in the first degree--life without release, in violation of Minn. Stat. §§ 609.185(a)(1), 609.11; Minn. Stat. § 609.106, subds. (1)(b), 2(3) (2004) (amended 2005).*fn1 A public defender was appointed to defend Bruestle, and the public defender made a motion for a mental examination pursuant to Minn. R. Crim. P. 20.01 and 20.02. The district court ordered the mental examination to determine both Bruestle's competency and his mental condition at the time of the homicide.*fn2 At this time, the public defender submitted a request for funding for a Rule 20 examination by an expert. The public defender received a response from the chief public defender, which stated:

We will be having problems with our expert budget soon. This is the type of case that needs experts but we need your cooperation to keep expenses down. If Owen Nelson tells you (and you need to ask) at an early point that he cannot help you, cancel the remainder of his work. We do not need another report which echoes the courts [sic].

District court records indicate--and the post-conviction court found--that Dr. Nelson visited Bruestle in jail on December 19, 2002, for an unknown period of time.*fn3 The district court record does not indicate that Nelson generated a report regarding his visit(s) with Bruestle. On January 30, 2003, the public defender withdrew the motion for a Rule 20 evaluation, stating that "Mr. Bruestle has since stabilized * * *. I think he's seeing a psychologist [at Ramsey County Adult Detention Center] and getting some medications. So at this time I don't * * * see any need to have a Rule 20.01 and 20.02 evaluation * * *." Bruestle then entered a plea of not guilty.

On March 5, 2003, Bruestle changed his plea and entered a plea of guilty to first-degree premeditated murder. Minn. Stat. §§ 609.185(a)(1), 609.11. Apparently in exchange for this plea to murder in the first degree, the state dismissed the life without release count. At the plea hearing, the public defender told the district court that Bruestle was "very adamant about taking responsibility for his actions, despite my prodding to suggest that there is nothing to lose by going to trial." Bruestle's waiver of his rights was put on the record, and, during this part of the proceedings, his counsel specifically questioned Bruestle regarding his waiver of a mental illness defense. The exchange went as follows:

Public defender (PD): Richard, you're--there are some defenses you'd be waiving by entering this plea here as well. You told me you were drinking that day, and you're waiving an ...

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